City Cafe

The History Behind The Mary Gay House

Outside the Mary Gay House in Decatur.
Outside the Mary Gay House in Decatur.
Credit Evan Changhwan Jang / WABE

Not far from where Trinity Place meets Ponce De Leon Avenue in Decatur is a small white house. And if you take a chance to read the historical marker in its yard, you’ll quickly learn that it isn’t your ordinary home.

It was from inside that house that a woman named Mary Gay witnessed the civil war and its effects on civilian life in the South–experiences which she would one day document in an 1897 book titled, “Life in Dixie during the War.”

Rather than chronicling stories from the battlefields, as many union and confederate veterans did in memoires published after the war, Gay sought to capture daily life during the period, which for her family meant enduring an occupation by union forces of her town and her very home. Her account is one of only a few books about life on the home front during the conflict (and also one of the few written by a woman). 

As for her Decatur house, she never left it — at least during the civil war. In fact, she stayed there until the early 1900s.  We paid a visit to that very house with a local expert on Gay and her writings, Anne Earle.

Part one of the interview.Part two of the interview.

While few have read Mary Gay’s book today, her writing does live on thanks to Mark Twain. Listen to the full story below.

If you’d like to read Mary Gay’s full account of Southern life during the Civil War, you can read it as a PDF here. You can also find out more about the Mary Gay House at the website of the Junior League of Dekalb County. Special thanks to Galen Crawley for reading passages of “Life in Dixie during the War” for this interview.

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